At John 18:37, Jesus is speaking to Pontius Pilate and says

“For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.”

This is the only direct reference in the Gospel of John to Jesus being 'born'. The most obvious interpretation to me is this is referring to Jesus' biological birth. This would be similar in English to saying "so-and-so came into the world at 6:32am on such-and-such a date," where we are referring to so-and-so's literal (biological) birth.

Yet, a major theme in the Gospel of John is being 'spiritually' born, such as Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus at John 3.

What contextual or grammatical clues do we have to tell us whether the 'born' at John 18:37 is referring to Jesus' literal (biological) birth, a spiritual birth, or perhaps both?

  • Jesus’ spiritual birth was at his resurrection. 1Pet 3:18
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 0:12
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    @steveowen Ya, you have his literal birth, birth by the HS at his baptism, birth by the HS at his resurrection. So 3 possible targets, but Jesus is talking past tense, so it can't be the third he's referring to here. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 1:29
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    @NigelJ I'm having a bit of a hard time putting this together with the question. Are you saying the verb usually translated 'born' at 18:37 should be translated differently? Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 21:30
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    My comments are deleted and reproduced as an answer, below. The full details of this very broad subject and highly important study are in the book 'The Son of man' which is freely available on my website as a PDF download. See my profile for the website details.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 17:48
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    Two things in this verse stand out: 1/ the words "for this reason" and 2/ the perfect tense of the verbs. IMO the first is a reference to Jesus' redemptive work. The second alerts us that there is an ongoing effect. Putting these two together, I conclude that he is including in this statement the process of his rebirth, occurring again and again, in the life of each believer. If so, there is definitely a spiritual reference here.
    – Nhi
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 12:51

3 Answers 3


γεγεννημαι (John 18:37) is the first person perfect indicative passive of gennao (see Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon p75).

The English word 'born' is indefinite. Greek uses tikto (deliver a child and cut the chord) or gennao (begetting - a separate entity arriving in the world).

The begetting in the womb of the virgin was the eternal begetting. Afterwards, Mary 'brought forth the Son of her, the prototokos ' (literal, see EGNT/TR), Luke 2:7.

The 'begetting' (gennao) in the womb of the virgin preceded (see Matthew's and Luke's accounts) the 'delivery' (tikto).

Thus it differs from natural generation where 'delivery' (tikto) precedes 'begetting' (gennao) - see John the Baptist's birth and Jesus' description of the mother's grief turned to joy.

Thus the 'begetting' in the womb of the virgin means other than natural begetting and should not be confused with it.

Jesus refers to 'for this cause was I begotten' meaning the cause for which he came into the world, and appeared, in humanity, as a separate entity from Mary.

As Paul states 'come of woman', 'come under law', Galatians 4:4 (it is ginomai 'come' not poeio 'made').

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    The begetting in the womb of the virgin was the eternal begetting, says who? Eternal begetting is an oxymoron. A beginning without beginning! Not a Biblical idea represented here.
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 21:01
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    The eternal life which was with the Father . . . . is manifested.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:19
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    If that is a reasonable idea, then you have an 'eternal life manifested' that cannot die. Is it eternal or not? If it can die it is not eternal. By making the 'word' a person it is now a complicated mystery with many contradictions that have no Biblical basis. Please do not refer me to the NC, we are discussing Biblical H, not creedal mystery. 'Eternal begetting' is not a Biblical term but is a theo. construct. The Gospels say nothing about this idea. Let's stick with explaining scripture with valid exegesis and accord with all other scripture.
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:44
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    I am not prepared to be subjected to censorship in regard to the vocabulary I use, thank you. I refer to the eternal God, and I refer to the only begotten Son. And if that begetting be between the Father and the Son (who, both, are eternal) then I shall refer to the begetting as eternal, also. No further comment, thank you. I do not wish to be censored.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 3:48
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    @Alex Balilo - Eternal begetting makes as much sense as eternal growing, eternal childhood, eternal adulthood, eternal old age and eternal dying.
    – moron
    Commented Jun 1 at 5:43

The operative verb in John 18:37 is γεννάω (gennaó = I beget (of the male), (of the female) I bring forth, give birth to) which occurs 18 times in the Gospel of John. Its use, whether literal or spiritual is rather obvious throughout the Gospel.

Spiritual uses:

  • John 1:13 - who were born not of blood, nor of will of flesh, nor of will of man, but of God. Note that John goes to some trouble to explain the distinction between being humanly born and born of God.
  • John 3:3-8 uses the verb eight times - all discuss spiritual birth except for the question of Nicodemus in V4 (twice). All the others specifically say either being "born of the Spirit" or "born from above/again", etc.

Literal uses:

  • John 8:41 - You are doing the works of your father." Therefore they said to Him, "We have not been born of sexual immorality. We have one Father, God."
  • John 9:2 - And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?"
  • John 9:19 - And they asked them, saying, "Is this your son, of whom you say that he was born blind? Then how presently does he see?"
  • John 9:20 - Therefore his parents answered and said, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind.
  • John 9:32 - Never out of the age has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one having been born blind.
  • John 9:34 - They answered and said to him, "You were born entirely in sins, and do you teach us?" And they cast him out.
  • John 16:21 - The woman has pain when she is giving birth, because her hour has come; but when she brings forth the child, she remembers the tribulation no longer, on account of the joy that a man has been born into the world.
  • John 18:37 - Therefore Pilate said to Him, "Then You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I may bear witness to the truth. Everyone being of the truth hears My voice."

Note that the default meaning is literal birth. However, when the verb is used in conspicuous conjunction with a phrase like, "born of Spirit", or, "born of water", or "born from above", etc, then it clearly means a spiritual birth.


John 18:37 is discussing Jesus' literal birth in Bethlehem.

[Note that the significant phrase, "for this I have come into the world" is pregnant with meaning (pardon the pun) but might be the subject of another question.]

  • +1 While the vocabulary doesn't match in John 1:14, which references Jesus' physical birth, the context of truth 1:17 supports physical birth in 8:37.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 11:42
  • @PerryWebb How do you know 1:14 references Jesus' physical birth? Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 4:02
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    The only way to say John 1:14 doesn't refer to physical birth is to say Jesus became a man without being born, which contradicts the Scriptures.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 10:05
  • @PerryWebb I don't understand. Are you saying the part of 1:14 usually translated 'the Word became flesh' must refer to birth? Or ...? Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 20:50
  • How did Jesus become flesh and dwell among us if not by birth?
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 22:22

There are only two times this phrase is used:

γεγέννημαι ► Englishman's Concordance γεγέννημαι (gegennēmai) — 2 Occurrences John 18:37 V-RIM/P-1S
GRK: εἰς τοῦτο γεγέννημαι καὶ εἰς
NAS: For this I have been born, and for this
KJV: end was I born, and for
INT: for this I have been born and for Acts 22:28 V-RIM/P-1S
GRK: δὲ καὶ γεγέννημαι 
NAS: But I was actually born [a citizen].
KJV: But I was [free] born.
INT: however also was [free] bor

We can see what Paul means when that phrase was born is used as an example of what he was born with. It was because of his family line and where he was born that made him a Roman citizen when he came out of the womb.

Paul was born as a citizen of Rome and freedom that it represented.

In the same way when Jesus came out of the womb he was born as King from His Father's lineage as the Word of God became flesh.

The verse In Micah also bears witness who is coming forth in labor.

And you, Beth-Lehem Ephratah, Little to be among the chiefs of Judah! From you He comes forth to Me—to be ruler in Israel, And His comings forth [are] of old, From the days of antiquity.” Micah 5:2 3Therefore, He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has given birth to a child.

One can see the three times this same word is used as a woman in labor.

◄ yō·w·lê·ḏāh ► Englishman's Concordance yō·w·lê·ḏāh — 3 Occurrences Isaiah 21:3 
HEB: אֲחָז֔וּנִי כְּצִירֵ֖י יֽוֹלֵדָ֑ה נַעֲוֵ֣יתִי מִשְּׁמֹ֔עַ
NAS: me like the pains of a woman in labor. I am so
KJV: upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down
INT: have seized the pains labor bewildered hear Hosea 13:13 
HEB: חֶבְלֵ֥י יֽוֹלֵדָ֖ה יָבֹ֣אוּ ל֑וֹ
NAS: The pains of childbirth come
KJV: The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come
INT: the pains of childbirth come he Micah 5:3 
HEB: עַד־ עֵ֥ת יוֹלֵדָ֖ה יָלָ֑דָה וְיֶ֣תֶר
NAS: the time When she who is in labor has borne
KJV: until the time [that] she which travaileth hath brought forth:
INT: them until the time labor has borne the remainde

The three wisemen also bear witness of a King that was born out of a womb.

"Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him."Matthew 2:2

We also see that this King of Israel is also the son of God.

Nathanael answered and saith to him, 'Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the king of Israel.' John 1:49

Later on we see this King that was born out of a womb is now dying on the cross

Over His head they placed a written statement of the charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Matthew 27:37

OP's question, What contextual or grammatical clues do we have to tell us whether the 'born' at John 18:37 is referring to Jesus' literal (biological) birth, a spiritual birth, or perhaps both?

Definitely would say it's a mixture of both spirit and flesh being born and brought forth as a son of Adam and God.

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